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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

The migration to Mastodon

Twitter’s policies have created toxicity. An alternative gets life

editorials Updated: Nov 15, 2019 19:36 IST

Hindustan Times
(Photo courtesy: https://joinmastodon.org/Screengrab)
         

That Twitter is a hub of hate-fuelled rants, usually directed against some individual or organisation, and encourages a toxic, mob mentality in its millions of users, is not a matter of contention any more. But no one really thought, until last week, that the people who actively used the platform were going to quit it. After a few days of debate on Twitter about its inadequate and opaque policies on hate speech, caste bias, and suspension policies for individual accounts, many Indian users decided to #BoycottTwitter and move to a social network called Mastodon. This was the upshot of Twitter suspending the account of Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde (twice), without adequate explanations. Users first threatened a 24-hour boycott, and then eventually decided to move en masse to Mastodon (or at least stayed on both for the moment). As several influencers set up Mastodon accounts, thousands of others joined the move, and Mastodon became a top trend on Twitter.

This collective move is an encouraging sign, because it shows that users care enough to actually engage with the policies of the platform. While outrage has always been the currency of social media, very little fallout has ever been visited upon tech giants such as Twitter and Facebook. Mastodon’s many advantages — it has no ads and is what is called a federated platform, with robust moderation and rules regarding hate speech — have been the subject of much discussion. While it remains to be seen if this migration is permanent or if old habits (and painstakingly-built followings) will be hard to leave, the Mastodon migration has brought up the need for different — and better — social media.

Mastodon — created by 26-year-old German computer science graduate, Eugen Rochko — is an interesting experiment. It isn’t centralised. Anyone can create a server to join it. Each server, called an “instance”, is run by volunteers, and has its own rules and moderation policies. So, users can join a server whose policies they like, even while following people across instances. Even though Mastodon has “toots” instead of “tweets” and “boosts” instead of “retweets”, it has no verification process, and was built with the intention of getting away from the trolling and abuse that have become par for the course on Twitter. Mastodon’s similarities with Twitter make migrating easy, while its differences make the user experience more rewarding and less prone to toxic behaviour.